A decree providing for new time periods for consultation with Work Councils in France has recently been published.

Consultation periods

Unless otherwise agreed between the employer and its Council, the latter has one month to render its opinion on any proposed measure or similar falling under its remit.  This time period starts upon communication to it by the employer of the relevant information and consultation material (or upon the employer disclosing this information in the database – see later). After this period any failure by the Work Council to deliver an opinion on those proposals is deemed to be a rejection of them, allowing the Company to start its project.  This is reinforcement of the obligation of the employer to allow a reasonable time for proper consultation with the relevant Works Council, but not ultimately to reach agreement with it.  Clearly it does not allow all active negotiations to be ended after a month regardless of their position at that time, but it does narrow the Works Council’s scope for delaying matters by not responding to proposals in a timely manner.

So as to build in time where the proposal is more complex or technical and external input may be required, this one month time period is extended to:

–       two months when an expert is appointed ;

–       three months when any Health and Safety Committee is consulted;

–       four months when a coordination body of the Health and Safety Committee is set up.

Despite the decree, certain questions raised by the law remain unsolved, for example, the application of these time periods to companies with both a Central Works Council and Local Works Councils remain unclear.

Economic and social database

The decree also covers the database which companies with more than 50 employees should set up for their employees’ representatives. These provisions will come into force on June 14th, 2014 for companies with more than 300 employees and the same day next year for those with less than 300 employees.  The idea is that this database will contain the information which forms the basis of consultation with the Works Council about the strategic plans of the employer and the detail underneath them, e.g. in relation to professional skills and development, work organisation and the use of sub-contractors, temporary workers and interns.  

The database will need to include also some relatively detailed financial information of possible relevance in collective negotiations – turnover, profit, equity and debt, payments by way of dividends, state aid, cash flows between group companies and tax credits, etc.  So far as practicable the data should cover the current financial year, the two preceding years and the three following, so the burden on the employer is substantial.  In addition, the contents of the database must be updated periodically and where particular information is not available, the employer must explain why not.

Access to the database should be available to the senior employee representatives, but although the law imposes a duty of confidentiality upon them in relation to the proprietary data of the employer, this may be little comfort to it if sensitive information is “inadvertently” leaked in the course of negotiations or a trade dispute.